Business leaders tell G20 to act on protectionism

LONDON (Reuters) - Business leaders from around the world urged G20 nations on Wednesday to push for a successful conclusion of world trade talks and to commit to fighting protectionism.

“We feel the Doha Round would be a terrific, visible step and it’s worth a lot of money,” Confederation of British Industry (CBI) President Martin Broughton told Reuters, estimating a deal could be worth $170 billion annually.

“Before Doha is done, the G20 could sign up to a legally binding agreement to maintain tariffs at a maximum of their current rates,” Broughton said.

Britain hosted the CBI and business lobby groups from other G20 nations on Wednesday as part of preparations for a summit of world leaders on the financial crisis in London on April 2.

Broughton said there was “good rhetoric” from the G20 rich and emerging nations on protectionism, but this was too often compromised by their actions.

“We would like to see an urgent action task force to assess protectionist activity,” he said, adding this could be done by the World Trade Organization (WTO), or a combination of the WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy will attend the G20 summit next month. Lamy did not attend the previous summit in Washington which called on leaders to seek a deal in the long-running Doha round of trade liberalization talks.

As many as 17 of the G20 nations had been accused of various protectionist measures, according to the World Bank, Broughton said. The United States came under fire for a “Buy American” clause in its $787 economic stimulus package.

Broughton said trade finance -- needed to keep shipments of goods moving -- was a real problem, especially for emerging economies, and urged the G20 to ensure funding was available for export credit agencies.

A source told Reuters on Wednesday that the global shortfall in trade finance was now running at about $100 billion.

BusinessEurope, which is Europe’s biggest employers’ group and attended the talks, said that G20 nations should buy short-term debt issued by companies to ease corporate access to financing <ID:LI945165>

The Bank of England has already begun to do this as part of measures to pull Britain out of its first recession since the early 1990s.

Broughton called for an audit to show progress on the goals since the initial G20 leaders’ summit last November.

He was confident that the summit in London next month could deliver results.

“The G20 is not a miracle worker but it can genuinely make a meaningful difference if it makes the right decisions in building confidence,” he said.

Editing by Jon Boyle